I have so much material I want to cover regarding my experience at the Nordic World Championships in Falun, Sweden! Being named to a World Championship team has been a dream of mine since I was just a little kid throwing myself off the bump jump at Howelsen Hill.
As the youngest and least experienced member of the team, I did not know whether I would get the opportunity to compete. Each team only gets to ski four athletes in the individual events. Early in the trip my teammate Adam Loomis came down with some kind of stomach illness. Luckily he recovered quickly, but he decided to sit the first individual event out and prepare for the team event. This opened up a spot for me to compete in the Normal Hill 10km event.
On the day of our first competition the weather was very difficult. It tends to be incredibly windy in Falun, Sweden. We arrived to the hills at 8:00 but the jumping portion of the competition was delayed twice before eventually being postponed to later in the day. By 11:00 I had already walked up to the top of the hill and back down two times. We went back to the hotel and hung out for an hour to kill some time. At 12:00 we arrived back at the hills to try and jump again. I went up to the top and got prepared. Then the competition was delayed another half hour. This meant me walking back down to the bottom AGAIN! At this point nobody had much confidence in the competition actually happening. Over the last few years I’ve learned to never get out of competition mode mentally because usually they find a way to pull it off. I headed back up one last time and hoped for the best. All of a sudden the wind got better and bib number one was getting on the bar.
I could hear the distances of the athletes in front of me being announced and nobody was going very far. I got my skis on and scooted out onto the bar. The wind was strong and I could feel it drafting up the hill inviting me to fly. My coach gave me the flag and I descended the inrun. The second I left the takeoff into the air, I knew that I was going far. My skis hugged my body tightly and the air lifted me like a kite. When my skis touched the ground at 90.5 meters I knew I had taken the lead. I couldn’t believe it. My best jump all week had come in the actual competition! After a few fist pumps towards the camera, I found myself being led to equipment control. It took about ten minutes for all my equipment to get checked and I was positive that somebody had taken my lead by now. As I walked out of equipment control someone yelled, “Get back to the leaders chair, your still winning!” Since I had never been in the leaders chair before, I received some instructions from the FIS media director. Every time I saw myself on the TV I needed to wave and smile. As I sat there athletes continued to jump and I watched as my lead held strong. By the time bib number 19 was on the bar I was still winning! Bib number 19 was my teammate and Nordic Combined legend Bill Demong. I stood up and cheered as I watched Bill fly down to 93.5 meters. He had just taken the lead! We exchanged a handshake, took a picture, and then I headed towards the ski lift.
I’m used to taking a jump then traveling to the changing rooms without any interruptions. On my way to the lift, the media stopped me in order to ask a few questions. Finally I made it back to the changing rooms after what felt like forever. I looked at the television and saw that Bill was still leading and I was in 4th place with some of the best jumpers still to go. I changed as fast as possible and got back to the television in time to watch Taylor and Bryan’s jumps. They both had jumps of 88.5 meters putting them into solid positions. At the end of the jumping our result were as follows. Bill in 10th place, me 16th, Bryan 20th, and Taylor 25th.
Because the jumping had taken so long to finish we did not have very much time until the race. This didn’t give me very much time to really take in the reality of the situation at hand. I think it hit me when I was changing in the start. I looked down and saw that I was wearing bib number 16 at the World Championships. I started 1:20 behind the leader and my focus was on not starting out too hard. As I began to race I realized that the conditions were very soft, slushy, and slow. This is pretty much my worst nightmare because conditions like these make it tough for the weaker skiers like me. A huge pack consisting of my teammates Bryan and Taylor passed me on the first lap. I tried to hang with them as long as possible but it quickly became too fast of a pace. My first lap wasn’t terrible and I was in 25th place after 2.5 km. The next three laps just got worse and worse for me and I never felt comfortable at all. I finished the race in 45th place. Taylor finished up in 19th place with Bryan right behind him in 21st and Bill in 25th. I was just happy to get the experience competing at this top level. It will take some time but I believe that with every race I will improve.
The truth is I really don’t have the speed on cross-country skis to be competitive at this level yet. These are THE BEST skiers in the world. On the bright side, I’ve proven that I can be a very good jumper on the World Cup already. My goal for next season is to be able ski fast enough to consistently finish in the top 30 at this level. It’s a tough task but I know I can do it. I’m only 19 years old so time is on my side!
I love the challenge of this sport. The joy of a challenge should be found in the pursuit, not the end result. I’ve come a long way and I’m enjoying the pursuit just as much as I did when I first embarked on this journey.